OK, so I have lied and we are only into the first paragraph! The Princess, the Palace and the Painter is an intriguing title with almost fairy-tale charm. All the characters are real, although the Painter was actually an Artist, but that didn’t begin with a ‘P’.
The story is set in The Hague in the Netherlands with a queen who was born in Germany. Emma was a princess of the principality of Waldeck-Pyrmont. The family was connected, as all European noble families seem to be, to the British monarchy and others. Her brother, Friedrich, was the last reigning Prince of Waldeck-Pyrmont; her sister, Helena Frederica, became the wife of Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany, son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.
Emma’s marriage in 1879 to the elderly William III, King of Holland, was considered a marriage of convenience as he was 40 or so years her senior. William’s first wife had died two years before. He had a bad reputation as “the greatest debauché of the age” and had already been rejected by Emma’s sister Pauline and by Princess Thyra of Denmark.
William wished to be succeeded by a son. He had three with his first wife but they had passed away before their father. However, it was a daughter who arrived and eventually became Queen Wilhelmina. She was only ten years old when her father died, leaving Emma as Regent till Wilhelmina reached her majority.
Cornerstone of its strength
Queen Emma became extremely popular, in contrast to her late husband. She is said to have saved the Dutch monarchy and been the cornerstone of its strength in modern times. She lived in many palaces but bought Lange Voorhout Palace in 1896 as her winter home.
In 1760, Pieter de Swarte had designed a house on the Lange Voorhout for the mayor of the Friesian town Sloten. The building was purchased in 1796 by Archibald Hope who was a financier of the European nobility. Queen Emma bought the building with the legacy from her brother-in-law Prince Hendrik. She evidently thought the old house needed updating as she had it extensively remodelled before, in 1901, taking up residence after the marriage of her daughter Queen Wilhelmina.
These days the palace can be visited by anyone interested in architecture as well as art, for it is now also a gallery. We can see the celebrated staircase up to the first floor with its copper rail that in the time of Queen Emma had to be polished each week by Royal command. Only three people could use those ornate stairs: her majesty and her two most trusted ladies-in-waiting. The servants had to use the staircase that runs behind the walls and this is still used by visitors today. Queen Emma converted the garden room into a ballroom, she added stained glass and a bathroom with hot water.
Works that intrigue
This building was not only the Winter Palace of Queen Emma, but also the working palace for the Princesses Wilhelmina, Juliana and Beatrix. There was a famous and much-photographed tradition of hand-waving by the Royal Family on the balcony at the front of the building. The family sold the building to the local authority of The Hague on condition that it would only be used for cultural activities – and that’s where the artist comes into view.
Maurits Cornelis Escher (1898-1972) is one of the world’s most famous graphic artists. His works are familiar to millions of people across the globe – one might not know his name but he created so-called impossible constructions, such as Ascending and Descending, Relativity, Transformation Prints, the Metamorphosis series, and many more works that intrigue and provoke thought.
Escher’s other works are less familiar but are, in my opinion, just as striking. They show a more traditional face of this multi-talented native of The Netherlands, who produced beautiful and much more realistic pieces when he lived and travelled in Italy. He made 448 lithographs, woodcuts and wood engravings and over 2000 drawings and sketches. He illustrated books, designed tapestries, murals and postage stamps.
Preserves the original royal ambience of a palace
Escher in Het Paleis (Escher at the Palace) is a permanent exhibition of the works of this unique artist. It is the only public building in The Hague that preserves the original royal ambience of a palace, making this a must-see for any discerning visitor to the town. There are over 150 prints and a changing selection of graphic art and tessellations. The centrepiece of the exhibition is the 7-meters long Metamorphosis III. The exhibits are displayed in rooms decorated in classic fashion with whimsical glass chandeliers which are in themselves noteworthy.
Maurits Cornelis Escher would, I don’t doubt, approve of this home for his life’s work. The fabric of the building offers an insight into a bygone age of elegance and refinement, and Emma’s journey will fascinate those who follow European Royalty. The palace offers visitors art and history in a fashion that every member of the family can enjoy. They will each take away something a little different from this delightful experience.
Learn more about Queen Emma, Maurits Cornelis Escher and the Palace here
Lange Voorhout 74
2514 EH Den Haag
Phone:+31 70 427 7730
Hours: Open Tuesday to Sunday 11:00 am – 5:00 pm
Travel review by Chrissie Walker © 2018